Breathe in, breathe out. Gently bend your knees and curl forward, stretching your arms towards the puppies playing on the floor. If you feel the need to stop and cuddle, follow your intuition. This is puppy yoga, and it’s among the year’s most adorable fitness trends.
Human yoga classes shared by goats, cats, puppies, bunnies and more furry friends, are popping up on farms and in cities around the country. And it’s not just cute. A 2012 study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that when humans interact with animals, it triggers a release of feel-good chemicals in our brains which can boost moods, lead to more positive social interactions and lessen stress and anxiety.
“Many people come to puppy yoga as their happy hour with friends,” says Elizabeth Skordinski, Founder and Co-Owner of Doodlebug Dog Walker, who runs puppy yoga in Arlington, Virginia. “It’s a great bonding time.”
She’s correct. In fact, I discovered the trend after seeing friends post ‘grams of themselves in downward dog next to actual dogs. Driven by overwhelming FOMO and a love for puppies, I signed up for one of Skordinski’s classes. The resulting class was among the most lighthearted 45 minutes I’ve spent in months. Although I devoted more time cuddling tiny dogs than I did in any upward dogs or cat/cows of my own, I walked out of the class, hosted at Caring Hands Animal Hospital (they donate the space) with a smile on my face worth 1,000 savasanas. I also walked out of class wanting to learn more about this fauna phenomenon, and so I consulted the pros.
Lainey Morse, Founder of Goat Yoga, which now has four locations across the country, purports the mood boosting benefits of animal yoga classes. “The world is in such a state where the news is negative, the political climate is crazy and everyone is stressed out,” says Morse. “It’s impossible to find that place where it’s calm and joyful as well.”
Morse found comfort from spending time with her goats when she was going through a divorce and was diagnosed with a disease, a tradition she now calls Goat Happy Hour. “When I was with [the goats] it made being sad and depressed impossible,” says Morse. A yoga teacher guest at a charity Goat Happy Hour suggested a yoga class, and The Original Goat Yoga was born in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where classes are taught by trained and certified yoga teachers.
“Combining goats and yoga was the perfect marriage,” says Morse. “You’re getting outside, bonding with calm and loving and funny animals and doing yoga.”
According to Morse, goats possess a state of calm that makes for ideal yoga companions. “It’s natural for the humans to take on that energy,” says Morse. “It disconnects you from the stresses of life and it’s impossible to think about anything other than the present moment.”
Morse’s classes are outside, in the goats’ natural habitat, to promote a therapeutic environment for both the humans and the goats. The goats receive no training and are free to roam about during class. They often go between people’s legs, or nuzzle and snuggle up to class goers on their mats. When the goats are babies, they especially love to play and hop up on people’s backs.
I can personally attest to a similar playfulness during puppy yoga, where puppies chased each other, even dashing under my legs during side angle pose and coming to visit me during bridge.
And it’s not just about love and attention; animal yoga classes have another big benefit for the four-legged participants. Morse is proud that her classes help students erase their preconceived notion of goats. “Most people that come to my class have never had any interaction with goats. They have this misconception that they’ll get head-butted or that they stink,” says Morse. “My goats are very loving and social animals. They don’t need a bond to love a human. If you walk into my class, they will walk up to you and want to love you.”
Skordinski started the puppy yoga classes to support Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Northern Virginia and has since raised thousands of dollars for the nonprofit. All of the puppies that the students interact with during class are available for adoption, and at least one pup has been adopted by a class goer. She sees her puppy yoga classes as a win-win. Says Skordinski, “People enjoy the classes because of the time we are in, meaning people legitimately need smiles and snuggles. It’s also heartwarming to know that you are benefiting a greater good to save rescue dogs and pups.”